I must say that this has been my busiest summer EVER! I mean, having 3 kids keeps you pretty busy. But this summer has been amazing with our first ever two week vacation across california, pool parties with friends, kayaking in Mission Bay and boogie boarding at the beach. We just returned from a FABULOUS weekend camping along the Kern River with my neighbors. That’s 5 families, 10 adults, 15 kids. FUN TIMES!
To help with the meal planning, we split up dinner duties. I got to head up the Saturday night dinner. Was I up for the challenge, or what?! My hubby, being cubmaster this year, got us some 10-inch cast iron dutch ovens for our camping trips and they were begging to be used. And, thru scouts, my man got together with other scout leaders and had a crash course in dutch oven cuisine. I was definitely inspired. And what was on our menu for Saturday night: Chili with Cornbread Crust and Baked Apples. Mmmmm… my mouth is still watering!
In my research for fabulous dutch oven recipes, cooked OUTSIDE over coals mind you, I found a couple great websites. The first was Byron’s Dutch Oven Cooking Page. Everything you want to know about dutch oven cooking is here from choosing one, to cooking in one, to cleaning and to taking care of one. Byron has an assortment of recipes (dinners, desserts, breakfasts) many of them prize winners to get you started. Another great source of dutch oven recipes is through the boy scouts and Scoutorama. These recipes aren’t just for dutch oven cooking, but also include foil cooking and homemade ovens made out of cardboard.
For my chili recipe, I wanted something easy and yummy. I adapted Byron’s chili recipe to my taste buds and my smaller dutch oven size. Since I was feeding 10 adults and my dutch oven’s were small I made two batches of chili, one with ground beef and the other with ground turkey (for my friends who don’t eat red meat). Byron’s cornbread recipe was too complicated for our camping trip – who wanted to whip up egg whites to peaks in the great outdoors without your handy dandy electric mixer? My co-chair for Saturday night’s dinner suggested Marie Callendar’s just-add-water cornbread mix. PERFECT!
The key to successful dutch oven cooking is to control the heat. Byron suggests using coal briquettes. Light them up and get them good and ready in about 20-30 minutes. Remember not to place the dutch oven directly over the flames, otherwise it can crack. Under each pot I had approximately 18 briquettes. You can also light a wood fire first and then lay the briquettes over the ash to get more heat. You place the dutch ovens over the coals and cook like you do at home. We had a lot of wind going on so to keep the ash out, we would put the tops back over the dutch ovens after each step.
First, brown the onions and red peppers (diced at home and brought to camp in ziploc bags). Second, add the ground meat and diced garlic. I seasoned everything with salt and pepper and my Lawry’s Taco Seasoning, since it included everything you need for chili and most of my crew didn’t want it spicey. You can also mix your own spice mix at home and take it with you in a ziploc bag. Next, a can of diced tomatoes, a can of tomato sauce, a can of black beans and a can of diced green chiles. Since our coals were pretty hot, we needed to add a little water to the chili. I quickly mixed my cornbread batter and poured it over the chili. One bag was needed for each dutch oven. Put the lid on your dutch oven, place approximately 16 coals on top of the lid and your cornbread will be done in about 30 minutes.
I admit that I am not totally sure on the timing of everything, as it was getting dark and I didn’t have a watch on. Every now and then we would peek inside and check the status of the cornbread. The bread rose about 2 inches, so make sure you have enough room between the top of the chili and the top of your dutch oven. Again, our fire was a bit on the hot side, we quickly removed the dutch oven off the coals and put it in the dirt, but left the coals on the lid. Overall, the cooking time was about an hour.
We also had toppings for the campfire chili on hand: shredded cheese, sour cream and diced avocado with lime.
The chili was a hit and we had enough for our hungry crew of 10 – especially since we all went white water rafting that day.
You could do this at home, as well, with an oven safe pot. Just make the chili the same way and pour your cornbread mix on top. Put the whole pot in your oven and bake it uncovered per your cornbread recipes directions.
Now, in hindsight, starting a fire and cooking and eating chili after a 100º day wasn’t one of my best ideas. But, since we ate after sundown when the weather cooled off, the chili with cornbread hit the spot!
Soon to come: bake apples, campfire style!